Sunday, 29 October 2017

AMERICAAA, F*CK YEAH: Los Angeles and a four-state road trip to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park

During the summer of 2015, I was best man at the wedding of Nick and Bee. They moved to America shortly afterwards. "Yeah, I'll come visit you soon," I said...

Fast forward two years and had I visited yet? No, I had not. Well this was the trip to rectify that and also my first visit to the USA of legal American drinking age (I went to New York when I was 18). The ability to buy a drink was going to be needed because part of the holiday would include a night in Las Vegas. Having been there now, I can safely say no one should ever visit Vegas sober.

My hosts, Nick and Bee (and their dog Buttercup) live in Culver City so the plan was to explore LA for a few days when I first arrived, then Nick and I would rent a car and head to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. That's four states - California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah - and even a second time zone when we entered Utah.

It also meant a lot of driving, albeit through some incredible big open American country scenery of  mountains and never-ending cloudless skies. Luckily, petrol is really cheap in America and it needs to be because most cars out there are big gas-guzzling bastards. I'm sure there's plenty of dodgy reasons why American petrol has been kept so cheap over the years, but let's not get into that – this is a travel blog, not a foreign policy and world economics essay...

However, attention spans in the internet age grow ever-shorter so let's dive straight into the photos. First half is LA and Vegas, second half is more nature-based in the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park.

Day one: Around LA

If you've seen the TV show Westworld, you've seen this church before, on the outskirts of LA.

Day two: Santa Monica Beach and Venice

Piano intro... "Some people stand in the daaaarkness, afraid to step into the light..."

A skater at Venice Beach doing his skating thing.

A mural for the film White Men Can't Jump, which was shot in Venice.

Day three: The Getty Centre

The Getty had some interesting South American art exhibitions and a bit of David Hockney when I visited. It's a great place to spend half a day just wandering round and checking out art and architecture.

Day four: Hollywood and the Griffith Observatory

I wasn't going to visit LA without a pilgrimage to Arnie's star on the Hollywood walk of fame. Hollywood was exactly as tacky as everyone warned me it would be.

Me below the Hollywood sign in the distance. It has been remarked (by my brother) that my hair is looking a bit hipster in this photo but I'd been wearing a hat all day so if I had hipster hair, so be it.

Day five: Leaving LA and heading to Vegas

Mine and Nick's road trip began with lunch at Peggy Sue's 50's Diner. Our waitress had been working there since 1989. It was a pretty glorious place with a cabinet full of many pies.

Nick bonds with a giant metal ape.

We arrived in Vegas around 4pm, where we checked into the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, just off Fremont Street. It's the older, and in my opinion way more interesting, part of Las Vegas. Just has a lot more character than the mega-casinos of the Strip.

Anyone who weighs over 350lbs (about 25 stone) gets to eat in the Heart Attack Grill for free! Me and Nick combined didn't even tip 350 so you'd need to have some serious dedication to all things artery clogging to get there.

VIDEO: One of my favourite things on Las Vegas Strip, The Bellagio Fountains.

The swimming pool at the Golden Nugget has a shark tank next to it, with a water slide that shoots you right through the middle of the shark tank and out into the pool. And why not? 

Very illuminated shot of the old town in Vegas.

Day six: On our way to the Grand Canyon with a stop-off at Bedrock City, a low budget (like, really low) Flinstones theme park 

Fred's had better days.

Day seven: Time to hike the Grand Canyon

We started our hike at 6.30am in warm clothes because it was pretty chilly until the sun came up. But within an hour or so it warmed up and it was time to get the legs out on our way down the South Kaibab Trail.

Sunrise over the Grand Canyon. Oh how fresh our legs felt at this stage as we strolled casually down towards the Colorado River.

A mule train takes supplies down to the Phantom Ranch near the Colorado River. This is still the only way to get supplies in and out of the canyon except helicopter and the national parks don't have the budget for that, so it mules all the way.

More epic Grand Canyon scenery. Sights like this really helped when we were both finding it hard going towards the end of the day's hiking.

Made it down to the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Half an hour for lunch and we were on our way back up again. The way down took about three hours and the way back up about 5.5 hours. The climb was tough going and there were other hikers looking like they'd seriously underestimated how much effort it was going to be.

Pretty amazing natural archway caused by a tree curving over the path back up the Bright Angel Trail.

After sunset on the rim of the canyon. The day's hike was 17 miles over nine hours and was tough but absolutely worth it.

Day eight - onwards to Zion!

As soon as you enter Zion National Park by car you are overwhelmed by incredible scenery such as this. And it's like this all the way through. Really took me by surprise.

We walked a short way along The Narrows, but had neither the waterproof gear or the energy in our legs to go further after the previous day's hike.

Picking my way through the river. The water was pretty damn cold, which is why you need the proper river-walking gear.

The Narrows goes on for miles but we just went far enough in to get a sense of it and take some pretty photos.

Sun setting over the Utah mountains as we drove to St George and our motel for the night.

The Dixie Motel, in St George, Utah. I really wanted to stay in an American roadside motel and this place fitted the bill perfectly. 

Day nine: Four states in one day, plus the Hoover Dam, as we head home from Utah through Arizona and Nevada into California
I just liked the Arizona sign and wanted to take a photo of it, as we made our way home through American highways that stretch out for miles in front of you and disappear over the horizon.

The Hoover Dam. I wasn't aware of how many people died making this thing in the early 1930s but it was at least 112, and almost certainly more because of the number that were recorded as pneumonia to avoid paying compensation claims to the workers families.

Coming to the end of our road trip, we worked out we has covered something like 1,200 miles in four days. I saw a good chunk of America. I also feel like it'll take more than a orange fascist like Trump to ruin a country this vast, diverse and full of kind people.

Thanks to my hosts in LA, Nick, Bee and Buttercup (under the table). On my final night we went for cocktails at the Culver Hotel, which makes a damn fine pomegranate Mojito.

Day 10: Manhattan Beach and flying home

 On my last day I had a choice between downtown LA or the beach. You can see what my choice was. Manhattan Beach was really picturesque and it was something like 35C outside so downtown LA seemed like a bad idea.


Leaving Los Angeles. Seeing the city from the window of the plane really gives you a sense of how frickin huge it is. It's way more spread out than London, which for the record was oppressively grey for about three days when I got home.

If you've got the Instagram, you can see a few more of my photos from the trip here: